‘Why wasn’t I given a choice?’: Mum’s agony at baby’s burial in mass grave

A mother who was told she could not make funeral arrangements for her miscarried son has hit out at hospital bosses.
Stoke Mandeville HospitalStoke Mandeville Hospital
Stoke Mandeville Hospital

Lisa Munroe-Shields, 48, tragically lost her son Alfie at 18-and-a-half weeks of pregnancy in March 2012.

But she and her husband Brian, also 48, were told by hospital staff that because their son had been born below a 20-week threshold, they would have no say in what happened to his body.

Alfie was taken away by nurses at Stoke Mandeville Hospital and the couple were left to grieve, believing he would be cremated with other babies who had died in the womb. But three years on, Mrs Munroe-Shields has discovered that Alfie was in fact buried in an unmarked mass grave in the Tring Road Cemetery, a few miles from the hospital where he died.

She said: “It was absolutely horrendous. When the lady told me over the phone, I just cried. We’ve had no grave to go to, or lay flowers at, and that is something that would have really helped us.

Mrs Munroe-Shields, who lives in Highfield, Hemel Hempstead, added: “We had a plaque made up for the Forget-Me-Not garden in Gadebridge Park (in Hemel), but all this time he’s been in Aylesbury. I don’t drive, so I have to wait for my husband to take me to him.”

The couple, who have five grown-up children between them, have now lodged an official complaint with the Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust, which oversees the hospital, in a bid to get to the bottom of why they were not given the choice to hold their own service for Alfie at the time.

Mrs Munroe-Shields, who had to go through an emergency hysterectomy after Alfie’s birth due to an infection, said: “It should have been discussed with us.

“We were not given the choice – we were told that because of his age, it was all down to the hospital.

“Part of me wishes I had never made that call. I’m angry at myself. I wish we had done something at the time, but everything was a blur.

“I’m just concerned that other people have been told the wrong information too. ”

Since the discovery, the couple have attended a private service for Alfie given by the Trust’s chaplain, but say they are ‘angry’ about the mistakes that have been made.

They have since met with hospital officials to address what they believe was a breakdown in communication, but say they have been given ‘no concrete answers’.

Audrey Warren, head of midwifery at the Trust, said: “The loss of a child is a profoundly sad time for all concerned, and we offer our condolences to Mrs Munroe-Shields and her family at what has clearly been a very difficult time for them in the three years since losing their baby boy.

“We recently met with Mrs Munroe-Shields and her husband to discuss the concerns they raised with us earlier this year and to share the results of the review we have since undertaken.

“We believe that the correct care pathway was followed at the time of Mrs Munroe-Shields’ miscarriage in 2012 and that their baby was buried in accordance with our guidelines. We are continuing to offer support to Mrs Munroe-Shields through the Trust’s chaplain and bereavement service.”

Ruth Bender Atik, national director of the Miscarriage Association, said: “There is no legal requirement for cremation or burial, but there is clear guidance on the options that should be offered to parents regarding their baby’s remains.

“All hospitals that are likely to treat women who miscarry should have a policy and procedure for the disposal of pregnancy remains.

“This will include informing the mother (and her partner where appropriate) about the options available to them.

“All the information should also be provided in writing, preferably in a sensitively written patient information leaflet.

“There is no doubt that this is a very difficult and sensitive subject and may feel like more than parents can bear at the time of their loss. Some might not want to think about it at all.

“In all cases, parents should be given time to make that decision and told what the hospital’s normal procedure is if they choose not to make a decision.”